Two 'Monuments Men' Who Helped Preserve Art During WWII Hailed From Wash. State

Feb 10, 2014

The movie “The Monuments Men” spotlights a platoon of real-life U.S. soldiers who rescued artistic masterpieces from the Nazis during World War II. 

Overall, there were approximately 350 men and women from 13 nations who fought to preserve art from the ravages of war. Two of them came from Washington state.

Sherman Lee, who was born in Seattle, was an expert in Asian art who served as associate director at the Seattle Art Museum in the late 1940s.

"He actually came to Seattle after finishing his service in the Navy and in the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) of the Allied Armed forces," said Sarah Berman, a curatorial associate at SAM.

As one of the so-called Monuments Men, Lee helped preserve cultural treasures in Japan, for which he was honored by the Japanese government. After the war, he helped establish SAM's European collection. He also taught at the University of Washington before moving on to the Cleveland Museum.

Theodore Allen Heinrich was born in Tacoma and served as an intelligence officer with the U.S. Air Force in Germany. After the war, he remained in the country to help rebuild museums and libraries.  He was awarded a Bronze Star as well as the Belgian Croix de Guerre for his restitution work.

Both men have since died, and neither is portrayed in the George Clooney film. But Susan Casteras, chair of University of Washington's art history department, says the film brings new attention to the entire group of curators and historians who comprised the Monuments Men.

"They were at the top of their game, at the top of their careers. They were serving humanity and art," she said.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., has co-sponsored a bill that would award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Monuments Men. She says we're long overdue in honoring the men who risked so much to preserve countless treasures.